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News Report: Covid Steadily Eroding Productivity, Confidence

Written Friday, January 21st 2022, by Youri Kemp, Tribune Business Reporter

The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce’s Chairman yesterday said business output has been hit by the number of employees forced into COVID-related quarantine.

Khrystle Rutherford- Ferguson, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) Chairman, told Tribune Business that the longer the near two-year pandemic lasts, the more it chips away at business confidence.

“As COVID-19 persists, the business community’s optimism recedes,” she said. “There’s no doubt there are challenges that continue. When you look at the level of optimism that was evident last year, when we had a flatter curve - when the curve was flattened - there was some optimism that we may be nearing the end of everything that we had experienced from a COVID standpoint.

“But with Omicron that came with our fourth wave, businesses were impacted by that through the cycling out of employees that contracted COVID.” For every staff member that has to isolate or quarantine, because they either contracted COVID-19 or were in contact with someone who had, there is a corresponding loss of productivity.

“Our businesses still had to operate with fewer staff,” Mrs Rutherford- Ferguson said. “We still have a number of people that are testing positive and having to quarantine. It’s positive that the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Government of The Bahamas have reduced the quarantine period once you catch COVID, and you can return to work after seven days as opposed to the 14 working days, so that’s positive.”

While Omicron variant is more contagious than previous COVID-19 strains, its symptoms appear to be milder. “But, notwithstanding all of the silver linings, there is still the issue regarding the supply chain, and members are noticing that suppliers continue to go up on the prices of goods,” Mrs Rutherford- Ferguson said

“Certain members have even indicated that the cost to bring containers from Europe has gone up by some 40 percent, and that whereas before to secure special orders, or even regular orders, you could place the order and, in four to six weeks pre-COVID, you had the goods on the dock. Now there’s a three to four-month minimum delay in getting goods in country.”

Supply chain challenges will persist through 2022, many analysts have predicted, with shipping containers stalled between China and the US. There is also a truck driver shortage for transporting goods through the US to other ports to get them to The Bahamas.

Mrs Rutherford-Ferguson added: “These are definitely areas that cause concern. Prices in segments of industry have gone up, too. Construction retail, for instance. The price of lumber has gone up. We saw last year where the price of lumber went up astronomically. But even now the prices of lumber have gone up almost as high as the highest point l